After a strong close to the first half of the season, the New York Yankees should seek to achieve certain goals after the MLB All-Star Break.
The New York Yankees finished the first half of the season strong, but any true blue baseball fans know this is only the beginning. Next comes the second half, a combination of the Thunderdome and 1987 classic The Running Man. Several teams will enter but only a select few will leave. And just like Highlander, there can be only one in the end.
Whew! OK, now that I’m done referencing ’80s movies, let’s get back to baseball. The Yankees, despite a plethora of injuries, currently sit 57-31 and 6.5 games up on the second place Tampa Bay Rays. Aaron Judge missed two months with a strained oblique and Giancarlo Stanton has barely played. Luis Severino hasn’t pitched once and Greg Bird is, well, Greg Bird.
The stage is set for the New York Yankees to continue that success in the second half, but now is not the time for cruise control. No, this is when the team must keep its foot on the gas pedal and adjust accordingly the rest of the year.
What needs to happen is management must set specific goals for the second half. If the Yankees can achieve them, then 2019 could wind up looking like quite the memorable year.
No. 5: Get healthy
Yankees fans come to Yankee Stadium to watch baseball, not a nine-inning game of Operation. Well, such was the case for a good chunk of the season’s opening months. At one point, New York had a whopping 13 players on the disabled list. Thanks to the famous “next man up” philosophy, this team flourished instead of floundering.
Now that the All-Star Break is here, New York’s top priority should be to get as healthy as possible before the playoffs. Stanton has dealt with bicep, shoulder, calf, and knee injuries all year and won’t be back until August. Severino and Dellin Betances are hoping to be back this year, but don’t have a timetable.
GM Brian Cashman says this team is a “fully operational Death Star,” so let’s get the active roster looking like just that on paper.
No. 4: Stay healthy
Getting healthy is all fine and dandy, but staying so is even more important. The good news for the New York Yankees is, slowly but surely, the important pieces are coming back. Judge returned last month and has hit .268 with four home runs since. Luke Voit, who strained an abdominal muscle in the London Series, could very well be back after the break.
The point is while it’s great top players are coming off the injured list, keeping them off it for the rest of the season is the real task. The dog days of August are just around the corner and fatigue will set in for a lot of teams.
The Yankees, despite their position in the standings, do not have that luxury. The Rays and defending champion Boston Red Sox are down, but not out. There is still time for one or both to make a run, and New York cannot be caught sleeping.
Which, oddly enough, brings us to the next goal!
No. 3: Add an arm
The New York Yankees’ pitching staff, despite some injuries, has not looked awful this year. New York ranks ninth in MLB with a 4.17 ERA, which isn’t terrible considering the team finished tenth with a mark of 3.78 a year ago.
Naturally, there is still room for improvement. James Paxton has looked good in his first Bronx season, but not great due to inconsistency. J.A. Happ has struggled with the long ball all year. CC Sabathia is only as good as how his balky knee feels, not to mention the command of his cutter.
Oh, and let’s not forget Betances and Severino’s respective shoulder injuries still aren’t fully healed.
This means as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, Cashman must acquire an arm. Mike Rosenstein of NJ.com reported last month the Yankees’ GM is doing just that and the team is in on some big names, including San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner and Toronto Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman.
Knowing Cashman, a deal is going to be made. How well it impacts his team, however, remains to be seen.
No. 2: Win the AL East
The New York Yankees have made the playoffs the last two seasons, but it hasn’t been the same as years past. New York made the playoffs as the AL Wild Card team in 2017 and 2018.
Even though New York came within a win of making the World Series one of those years, each playoff run ended with the same thought. The team could have been better.
That’s because second-half struggles kept the Yankees from making a significant push for first place in the division. Well, the worm has turned and this year’s Yankees have a new competitive fire in them. This team is hungry for the AL East crown and doesn’t want to worry about the Wild Card Game again.
This means entering the second half locked and loaded, regardless of who’s on the roster. For this Yankees team, the mentality should be simple: win the division or bust.
No. 1: Make a deep playoff run
Every New York Yankees fan worth their weight in gold is used to winning. Any season which ends without the Bronx Bombers winning the World Series feels like a failure.
Which is why though the Yankees should be aiming high, as playoff-caliber teams often do, the goal this year is different. Just get back to the American League Championship Series and, hopefully, beyond. Last year’s early exit was embarrassing not just because New York was eliminated by Boston at home, but because everyone from the players to the coaches to even the hot dog vendors knew the team was better than its performance.
This year’s New York Yankees are a different team. Instead of crumbling under pressure, they embrace it. No matter what the score, this team always shows fight and passion.
The playoffs are a whole other animal but mark this writer’s words. If the New York Yankees can win the AL East, expect a different team than last year to show up.